Todd Rokita just wouldn’t get it.
No, Rokita – the Republican congressman from northern Indiana and a hopeful for the GOP U.S. Senate – wouldn’t understand a conversation I had not long ago with the man he hopes to replace, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana.
Rokita is all about anger. He wants Hoosiers to get mad and stay mad – at each other, at anyone who disagrees with them in the slightest, at anyone who comes from a different place or looks the least bit different.
He just released his first TV campaign ad.
It mashes every hot button Rokita can imagine and seeks to divide, divide, divide. It indulges in some casual race-baiting, shows him blasting away with an AR-15 – the weapon of choice for mass shooters – and includes his boast that he’s running for the Senate so he can fight the “liberal elites” in government.
It’s a curious claim on two counts.
The first is that his Republican Party controls every branch of government at both the federal and state levels. If government isn’t functioning, guys like Rokita must be part of the problem, not the solution.
The second reason Rokita’s boast is odd is that he hasn’t drawn a private-sector paycheck pretty much since he started shaving. If government has its share of pigs at a trough, Rokita’s snout is in there among them.
But, like the president whose voters he’s courting, Rokita isn’t concerned with matters of truth, fact or even getting things done.
He just wants to look tough and thinks snarling all the time does that for him.
It just shows that he’s scared or devoid of any ambition greater than climbing the next rung on the ladder.
Confident people seek to build and unite.
Frightened people try to divide and tear down.
Rokita’s campaign by temper tantrums demonstrates he couldn’t grasp the conversation I had with Donnelly.
Donnelly and I talked about the man Donnelly succeeded, former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana.
If Lugar had made it past the Republican U.S. Senate primary six years ago, Donnelly would have faced him in the fall election.
But Lugar lost in the primary to fellow Republican Richard Mourdock, who ran a campaign similar in style and tone to Rokita’s – a lot of rage, a lot of divisiveness. Donnelly defeated Mourdock, and Republicans lost a Senate seat they’d held for 36 years.
I asked Donnelly about what that race would have been like if Lugar rather than Mourdock had emerged from the primary.
Donnelly’s response was almost wistful.
He talked about how gracious Lugar always had been to him and to everyone else in Congress. He said Lugar had served and continued to serve as a mentor and source of counsel not just to him, but to scores of other senators and representatives of both parties.
Donnelly also talked about Lugar’s generosity. He said Lugar refused to demonize opponents or people he disagreed with, and that he never marginalized anyone.
“Sen. Lugar was always the kindest to the person who was sitting by themselves at an event and didn’t know who to talk to,” Donnelly said.
Then he talked directly about what it would have been like to run against Lugar in 2012.
“Of course, he would’ve been tougher to defeat,” Donnelly said. “And he probably would have been the overwhelming favorite, and rightfully so.”
Donnelly said his hope for that race would have been that he and Lugar could have traveled around the state together and “have three or four or five times where we could get together around the state – Evansville, Fort Wayne, Richmond, South Bend – just to talk about the issues.”
Donnelly said such a civil campaign might have been possible because of Lugar’s innate generosity – and because Donnelly had such great respect for him.
Donnelly added that he had so much respect for Lugar that he would have been at peace with any outcome in the race.
“If Sen. Lugar was here in this office today with you as a senator,” Donnelly said, looking me square in the eye, “I think that would’ve been an awesome result as well.”
This is one more thing Todd Rokita doesn’t seem to understand.
Graciousness is a sign of strength.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.